Cheap broadband could be a thing of the past

CPU competition is dead
The days of cheap broadband and CPU competition are coming to an end, says columnist Jeremy Laird

Should fast, low latency broadband deals be a basic human right?

Speaking for ourselves, we'd certainly struggle to get through so as much as the first 10 minutes of the morning without it. Strictly speaking, we don't really do mornings.

But we digress. What we want to communicate is a recent epiphany we had involving the internet.

Nope, that's not a euphemism for something in anyway salacious or unsavoury. We're talking about the sheer, giddy value for money derived from a decent broadband connection. Our particular pipe at home costs a paltry £16.99 per month.

We won't name names, for fear of appearing to curry favour. Suffice to say, our local phone exchange is LLU, which provides us with plenty of choice. We wouldn't touch a FUP'ed up BT connection with a 10-foot Ethernet cable.

In return, we get an always-on, almost-never-goes-down connection measuring a solid 16Mbps in width. Day or night, hour after hour, we can download at a rate of around 1.7MB/s. Much of the time our actual usage is a trickle, but over the past two years, it has never failed to deliver when we have turned on the taps.

Now, none of this is exactly news. While there are quite a few pretty shonky ISPs out there, the good ones aren't hard to find. But in this age of austerity, it's hard to think of any goods or services that come close to the preposterously good value offered by broadband.

Take motoring, for example. If you even think about getting into your car, it will cost a tenner. Actually drive any distance and you'll be lucky to get change out of £20 - unless you park in a built-up area for 30 minutes at the other end, in which case make that £30. Double that if you forget to put money in the meter. The same goes for rail travel, frankly.

If planes, trains and automobiles seem a little tangential, what about mobile phone usage? We get fleeced £45 every month for a line rental that on paper has all our calls covered, but somehow always manages to find a reason to charge a fortune for all the long ones. Indulge in even a whiff of phone roaming abroad and you're in deep trouble, too. A 10-day jaunt to Italy this summer socked us for £90 in data charges. It's completely and utterly scandalous.

We could keep at this all day. We managed to fit £60 worth of supermarket shopping into a small basket the other day, without buying a drop of booze. As for other utility bills, we would come clean but opening the post usually makes us cry.

By almost any metric you choose, broadband internet looks astonishingly cheap. For that reason, we can only assume it won't last. Either service quality will fall off a cliff, the spectre of a tiered internet will become a reality or prices will explode. No doubt it will end up being all three. So, take our advice. Enjoy it while it lasts. The end is surely nigh.

And another thing...

Speaking of good things coming to an end, we're more than a little concerned by the direction the PC processor market has taken in the past few months.

AMD has finally released its long-awaited Bulldozer FX chips upon the world, and it turns out they're pretty rubbish. It seemed likely that the long-term impact would be Intel dragging its feet.

What we weren't expecting was for that effect to kick inquite so fast. Intel has gone live with its own new high-end desktop processor, known as Sandy Bridge E, as seen on the Intel Core i7 3960X.

It's been nearly two years since Intel did anything noteworthy at the top of its desktop product portfolio, so expectations were high. In the event, however, Sandy Bridge E has no more cores than the two-year-old Gulftown chip.

At least, that what it seemed like at first. Tucked away in Intel's marketing material was an image of Sandy E's processor die, and it was immediately obvious that this was in fact an eight-core chip with two of the cores fused off.

When we asked some Intel suits for an explanation, they rolled out some guff about balancing clockspeeds with cores and doing what was right for customers. Funny thing is, when AMD was more competitive, turning off cores didn't seem like the right thing to do.

Likewise, if we were customers who'd just paid £750 for a Sandy Bridge E processor, we'd be wondering how Intel was serving our interests by turning off cores. All of which means the scenario we've been worrying about most has arrived sooner than we'd feared. There's no more competition in the CPU market.